We have reached a milestone – it is exactly three years since we published our first issue. Looking back over the issues, I am in awe of the work partnership brokers do across the globe to make development partnerships deliver for the greater good.
More evidence and insights are being shared about the diverse ways in which partnership brokers overcome collaborative challenges and create and realise opportunities for communities. It has particularly been a source of inspiration to hear from partnership brokers who are entrepreneurial and innovative, encouraging organisations to consider completely new ways of operating, and to create and scale up new programmes, businesses or operating models, new types of products and services and even new markets to meet development challenges.
One such entrepreneurial ‘story from the front line’ comes from Choongo Chibawe and Rafal Serafin. They relate how brokering new types of food systems as partnerships can disrupt the status quo to connect food producers and consumers in new ways. In their article, they share their insights and experiences of using partnership brokering to engage smallholder farmers in reconfiguring local food systems in their respective countries of Zambia and Poland.
Food security and sustainable agriculture represent one of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets set for achievement by 2030. This goal has huge implications for smallholder farmers, living in rural areas and / or struggling to survive on subsistence-based agriculture. Partnerships can help improve market access for these farmers, bringing them increased income and food security and alleviate poverty. As Choongo and Rafal show, this is a SDG where intervention by partnership brokers working with local communities and partners can make a tangible and significant difference.
Staying with the food security theme, Lucy Carter provides another perspective on partnership brokering: transitioning into a partnership brokering role. A scientist with no formal training as a partnership broker, Lucy was appointed as an internal partnership broker in one of the four Australian organisations in the partnership working to improve the impact of agriculture and food security programs in the Indo-Pacific region. In her article, she describes her experiences and insights of facilitating collaboration amongst organisations with a shared vision but with very different interests and expectations. As she says, she had to move out of her comfort zone of scientific research into what became a test in “becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable”.
Taking the uncomfortable head on is something that Sara Nyanti can relate to. In a long career, most of it spent in developing countries and at high levels of management and partnership facilitation, Sara has been observing how partnerships live up to the principles of equity, transparency and mutual benefit and the role ethics play. In her article, she uses one particular partnership to illustrate how focus on achieving quantitative results and saving a vulnerable grant undermined the attention that needed to be paid to the ethics around partnership strategies.
Sara’s article will resonate with many partnership brokers – where pressures for accelerated implementation, lax governance, power imbalances, poor leadership, hidden agendas, vested interests, positions and biases can introduce ethical ambiguities and questions that we may have to find answers to. Sometimes such ambiguities and other challenges in the partnership can lead to conflict and disputes amongst partners. There is no simple solution since the source and nature of conflict and disputes is context-specific. We can, however, mitigate its likelihood by helping partners put in place partnership principles and governance at the outset which guide conflict resolution. We can also learn from and adapt mechanisms used by others to suit the scenario. In his article, Mark McPeak describes one approach to conflict management used in “Project Alliancing”, a private-sector partnership mechanism common in the construction industry, to explore how it might be relevant to development partnerships and to the people who facilitate and manage the partnering process.
The approach may not suit every partnership or partnership broker’s way of working, but it does support the broader principle of being open to using and adapting materials, frameworks and tools from diverse sources to solve partnership brokering challenges.
Taking good practices and ideas from different sources can be invaluable in improving our own practice. It makes sense to learn how others do new, do different and do better. It can help us avoid making the same errors. It can also be uplifting and inspirational, and a source of new ideas and options. Which is probably why we like case studies. In 2013, the Start Network, a consortium of humanitarian agencies, commissioned a series of case studies to document its emerging experience as a “humanitarian system change catalyst”. In her article, Marieke de Wal provides a critical review of the three case studies which have been published to date.
It will provide some material for reflection on relationship-building and relationship management in partnerships. As partnership brokers, we work with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives and we manage complex and dynamic relationships and processes in performing our multiple roles. We come across interactions and experiences which make us pause and possibly re-evaluate how we see and deal with certain events. It is at times like these that reflection can be a valuable competency.
Indeed, reflective reflective practice is at the core of the Partnership Brokering Association (PBA)’s Accreditation Programme, where during the four-month mentored period, partnership brokers are required to keep a reflective log book to show evidence of their practice. It can be a novel and unsettling experience for many, but when people do get into reflection, they recognise the value of self-reflection and from having a critical friend and / or mentor. In my article, I look at reflection and reflective practice in the partnership brokering context and explore some of the creative and structured ways practitioners can integrate reflection into their partnership brokering practice. I conclude it by asking for experiences and opinions about reflective practice from other partnership brokers so we can build our collective knowledge about the value that it adds to our work.